Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote that: “There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.” In fact it is a curious thing, that we never cease being perplexed at why our friends are attracted to the people they do become attracted to – and who others can be passionate about and with. It would seem that when it comes to the love of a man and a woman – many laws of reason seem to be relaxed. In fact the words of John Lyly’s Euphues bear some truth: “That all’s fair in love and war”. I know very few men who have placed reason at the forefront of choosing a spouse, but those who have, seemed to have chosen well. Perhaps there is some degree of truth in that oft cited statistic that arranged marriages are more successful than not. Perhaps also it is because in the case of arranged marriages, that those who are making the choices, are doing so, based on reason rather than passion. Reason seems to play a lesser role when sexual attraction blurs the mind. It is often passion that makes us act – passion for a particular woman, passion for a national cause, passion that makes us give up our lives. Passion often causes us to act irrationally. Speaking about irrationality – Catch 22.

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The plea of insanity to get out of the war, is not so distinct from the plea to seek a declaration of nullity, on the basis of immaturity, for in both cases, the plea comes from a person wishing to escape a particular situation; for if it wasn’t they would happily stay in that situation. Initially blinded by ‘being in love’ – their eyes have been opened to the reality of a ‘sham’ marriage, one where love is not lived. Yossarian joins the air force – on the basis of love of country and patriotism. He does not know what the future holds, but he does know that it can be precarious, to say the least; but now he doesn’t want to be in this situation, which could very well cost his life. In the midst of his misadventure – he seeks an out. With marriage – we also know not what the future holds, and if everything fares well – it should end in suffering and death, after many joys it is hoped, but not always so. The Catch 22 is that as with war, marriage is a risk; and each person before they sign for either life, has to think, long, hard and maturely, about these risks. Any person who states later that they were too immature at the beginning of the marriage comes close to Yossarian’s bind; for one could say that if the individual was  ‘mature’ enough to drive a car, hold down a job, or pay off a loan – what other indications can both the groom and Yossarian use to highlight their maturity in making decisions, for choosing a certain course to their life; for no one knows what the future holds – but God. All we can conclude regarding the human capacity to make decisions is that we make choices for better or for worse – and pray they come out well. In fact one of the goals of the Church and the State in educating the Faithful and their citizens should be that individuals are capable of making reasoned and committed choices – for a State and Church, requires this from their Faithful and citizens in order to be sustained and flourish. One could also add here William James’ end-goal of education, that being, that the individual is able to recognize a good person. We can debate how one can define ‘good’, but in the case of marriage, surely we seek a partner of some moral virtue and emotionally stability. Emotional immaturity is something very hard to quantify, for no one would subscribe to committing to be shot at, without some trade-off in their mind; nor would an individual subscribe to a life with a harpy, or faithless lothario, if they had prescience. As such, all contracts and vows are null, potentially so at least, for we are binding people to lives without perfect knowledge. Yet alternately, without the ties that bind, society falls apart; families splinter, armies desert. In short, people have to commit to something or someone in order for society to have stability. The question arises though, as to when does it become virtuous or a moral imperative to break a commitment. For both Socrates and Christ, subjection to the law was more vital than self.

In short, people have to commit to something or someone in order for society to have stability

This being said, the state of marital disunion is the most malignant crises that both the Church and State faces today; herein we have a problem that involves not only this generation, but in exponential terms the lives and prospective loves of generations to come.

However to place the blame at the foot of the Church for a blessed union founded on a personal lack of emotional maturity, is a ‘cop-out’ – not too dissimilar to Heller’s Yossarian. The Church in Its wisdom has allowed for this exception via the process of declaration of nullity – but the Church now stands on the precipice of this becoming a general rule, due to a shift in the moral preparation of the youth that come before It for marital unions to be blessed, and sanctified in the Church. The Catholic Church has for centuries stood as the bastion of preserving the marital commitment – and for this, it should not in any way be perceived as the root cause of the crisis in modern marriage and the State of Disunion; quite the opposite – It should be commended, and lauded, at least for recognizing the scope of the potential problem. The increasing rate of declarations of nullity is the symptom shown of a disease, the nullity process is not the cause. Personal responsibility in choice and decision making is the God-driven branch that rises from out of the tap root of free will.

Personal responsibility in choice and decision making is the God-driven branch that rises from out of the tap root of free will.

Christ the Good Shepherd – Christ the gentle and meek, was also Christ the teacher of ‘tough-love’ when He came to speak about the marital bond. (cf. Matthew 5: 31 – 32). Christ taught as such so as to reveal to the world that the marriage bond is so vital and so important – that it goes beyond sexual attraction – but to the highest levels of the human spirit. The partnership of marriage – is not about whim, it is about total commitment. Marriage does contain physical passion – but long after the body is capable of such ardent displays – it is about loyalty, and being True. It is about commitment to spouse – commitment to the children you bring into the world; it is about the thousands of times you die to self. That is why the disciples on hearing Christ teach on marriage, declare that marriage is not for everyone; for marriage requires maturity – and heroism. (cf. Matthew 19: 1 – 11). Modern research about the consequences of divorce have proved, even to the most skeptical that what Christ taught was indeed True. I would not wish to suggest that those whose marriages have failed or broken down are in some way defective. Far from it. Most adult people reading this text would be more than acquainted with stories from relatives, friends and neighbours of very good people having suffered the horror of a marriage breakdown. As a teacher I have seen it tragically far too often. The key is to form individuals who are able to make sound choices and commit themselves to these choices – this is far from simple; but when we speak about love and family, it is critical – as we are speaking of future generations, not only are own. A person may have had their boyfriends and girlfriends – but a husband or a wife, are vastly different in both name and practise. In essence friendship is a form of love that should be found within a marriage – but marriage requires the four loves within its bond: familial love, erotic love, friendship and unconditional love. If these are not present at the start of the marriage, they must be strived toward; failing which the marriage will most likely be burdened with a shadow of resentment.

Marriage does contain physical passion – but long after the body is capable of such ardent displays – it is about loyalty, and being True.

St. John Chrysostom once wrote about marriage: “Some say that marriage was ordained by God as a blessing to the human race. Others say that marriage is a necessary evil for those who cannot restrain their sexual appetites. In truth it is impossible to speak in such ways about marriage in general; we can only make judgments about particular marriages. There are some marriages which bring great blessings to the husband and the wife, to their children, and to all their neighbours. But there are other marriages which seem to bring few blessings to anyone. The difference between these two types of marriage lies in the spirit with which the bond was forged and is maintained. If a man and a woman marry to satisfy their sexual appetites, or to further the material aims of themselves or their families, then the union is unlikely to bring blessings. But if a man and a woman marry in order to be the companions on the journey through earth to heaven, then their union will bring great joy to themselves and to others. Some people need a close companion, and for these people God has ordained marriage. Some do not need a close companion, and for these people God has ordained celibacy”. (Chrysostom, 1996, p. 70). Chrysostom’s homily is a veritable hymn to spiritual maturity in a Christian marriage.

For a Church that must daily deal with the reality of Canon 1095 (West), and Canon 818 (Eastern), education is the key; for a couple may be, madly in love – but prior to marriage, at least a degree of sanity is needed. The Church’s voice – steady and dispassionate – is required. Once again, this is so easy to write, but so difficult to live out; but lived out, it needs be.

All that a male and female bring – in physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional intercourse, should find themselves in a Christian marriage.

Christ Our Pascha: The Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, states that: “Marriage as a union of love between a man and a woman derives from the very nature of the human person: “indeed from the beginning, God appears to have made special provision for this union; and referring to the two as one, he said: ‘Male and female he created them.’” The mutual marital love of a husband and wife is the power and foundation for the growth of strong families and the creation of healthy societies.” (Christ Our Pascha, 2016, §476). That a man and woman come together to form a family, is representational of the potential of human nature. All that a male and female bring – in physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional intercourse, should find themselves in a Christian marriage.

Marriage, as it has always been, is the bedrock of the future – not only of our society, or nation, but of the shape of humanity; for without stability, future generations will develop confused notions about: identity, virtue and purpose.

In the future, the Church will have to tackle some very hard issues – trying to understand how people live in a world in which so many of the Absolutes, such as love, marriage, commitment, and God, have been stripped down to look abjectly Relative, by the breakdown of what is most fundamental and sacred to both the Church and nation – the family; and how this shattered paradigm affects the ability of the next generation to make committed life-long choices. The Church needs to act, not only for the sake of Her members – but for the future of humanity. How She acts without disaffecting those who seek Her blessing as well as arbitration is the greatest problem threatening Her Mission and the stability and strength of the family and thus society of the future.

Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania

This article was published in The Church and Life Newspaper, March 2019